REIMS, France--A wife and the in-laws of the pair of brothers who shot dead 12 people at the offices of the satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo a week ago in Paris denied in interviews on Wednesday that either Kouachi brother had ever exhibited any signs of extremism that would lead them to carry out such an attack.
Both the in-laws of Cherif Kouachi and the wife of Said Kouachi – through a lawyer – told ABC News that they learned of the massacre through the media and that it came as a complete surprise, that neither brother came across as radicals with ties to al Qaeda, as French officials have alleged.
“Her world basically collapsed,” lawyer Antoine Flasaquier said of Said’s wife – whom he declined to name - in an interview in his office in the town of Reims. “When she heard that it was for sure [the brothers who carried out the attack] she was shocked.”
The couple was married in a religious ceremony in 2007 and then in a civil ceremony in 2012. They have a 2-year-old son and on the morning Said left their Reims apartment before the shooting, his wife says he was acting normally.
“He just gave her a kiss and left,” said Flasaquier. “She thinks something happened on his way or when he met his brother because she doesn’t understand.”
“Of course, she does not pretend he was not there [at Charlie Hebdo] but she doesn’t understand how he could kill people, how he could kill journalists and how he ended up killing himself [in self-prompted Friday’s shootout with] the police,” he added. “She doesn’t understand.”
Cherif Kouachi, 32, was the younger brother who married one of the four sisters of the Hamyd family in 2008. That was the same year he was released from prison, a fact the Hamyd family claims they never knew until it came out in the press after the Charlie Hebdo attacks.
“We usually talked about sports, that was the most important topic,” said 18 year-old son Mourad Hamyd, initially named as a third suspect along with the brothers last Wednesday night. A few hours later he turned himself in and after being held for two days by police was released after they confirmed that the aspiring medical student had been in class at the time of the attack.
“My only mistake was to be Cherif’s brother-in-law,” added Hamyd, “that’s it.”
After seeing their son held hauled into custody, the originally Moroccan Hamyd family made it clear their goal now is to clear their name and to distance themselves from the Kouachis. Mourad Hamyd and his father said Cherif Kouachi only came around a few times a year, downplaying any relationship.
“He dressed in sneakers and sweatpants, he played soccer, he played videogames, he never talked of religion or anything else,” said Mourad Hamyd’s father in broken an accented French. “He was nice, he had a nice smile. This is my daughter who chose him.”
Both wives of the Kouachi brothers declined to be interviewed themselves. The representatives for the two women say they’re in a state of shock, still processing what their husbands did.
For their part, the Hamyd family is hoping the attention goes away soon. Despite Mourad Hamyd’s innocence and the family’s claims of ignorance about the brothers’ activities, they have received a handful of threatening phone calls and at least one handwritten letter in their mailbox, delivered Wednesday.
“You keep taking France and the French people for fools. Go back to your country of origin before it’s too late,” concludes the unsigned letter, which came in an envelope with no postmark. “You make me want to vomit.”